Blake and Durer?
Edward J. Rose
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Blake and Durer
by EDWARD J. ROSE
HI! I were not Michelangelo, I should rather be Albrecht Durer. "
BLAKE inherited a traditional definition of sculpture that perhaps does not come immediately to mind when the word is employed. Originally~ as the OED records~ "sculpture" is the "process or art of carving or engraving a hard material so as to produce designs or figures in relief~ in intaglio~ or in the round. . . .~~ Blake's habit of signing himself sculptor as well as inventor, author, or printer is in terms of this definition unremarkable. It would be a mistake, however, not to appre-ciate fully what the vocation of sculptor meant to him as an engraver and etcher, especially when his admiration for Michelangelo or Diirer and his method of relief etching are taken into account.1Blake saw him-self carving and chiselling like the great sculptors of Italy and Antiquity, only in copper instead of stone.2The hammer of Los is not only that of the smithy but also that of the sculptor.
Blake's preference for Poussin, which accompanied his distaste for Rubens, reflects his inclination to admire sculpture-like figures, even in painting.3Of course, his praise of Poussin is prompted in part by his antipathy for the aesthetic judgments of Joshua Reynolds. Like Pous-sin, who with Claude Lorrain represents the Roman school of painting in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Diirer comes to represent in Blake's mind an anti-Reynolds point of view, not the least of which is the German's firm and determinate outline. As Blunt observes, Blake's "obsession with outline . . . led him to admire many classical artists, such as Poussin, with whom otherwise he can have had little in com-mon." In reply to Reynolds' criticism of the principles on which Diirer's style is based and his assertion that he "would, probably, have been
1. See John W. Wright, "Blake's Relief-Etching Method," Blake Newsletter, IX (Spring 1976), 94-114.
2. Itis difficult to ascertain precisely when Blake first read Vasari, but by 1795 he was already famil-iar with theLives.There is no evidence that he knew Leonardo's or Cennini's commentaries. Blake is devoted to Michelangelo, Raphael, and the late Gothic. See my essay, "The 'Gothicised Imagination' of 'Michelangelo Blake,' " inBlake in his Time,ed. Robert N. Essick and Donald Pearce (Indiana Univ. Press, 1978).Itis closely related to this article.
3. See my article, " 'A Most Outrageous Demon': Blake's Case Against Rubens,"Bucknell Review,
XVII (March 1969), 33-54; reprinted inThe Visionary Hand,ed. Robert N. Essick (Los Angeles, 1973), pp. 311-336.
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one of the first painters of his age," Blake exclaims "What does this
mean 'Would have been' one of the first Painters of his Age Albert
Durer Is! Not would have been!"4 Siding with the Roman and Floren-tine schools and berating Rubens and the Venetians, Blake overlooks (perhaps intentionally) the extent of Venice's influence on Durer's work. He also may have heard of Michelangelo's supposed opinion of Durer, which would only have encouraged him to be unrestrained in his praise: "I esteem him so much," Michelangelo is reported to have said, "that, if I were not Michelangelo, I should rather be Albrecht Durer . . . ." 5 Durer's now famous watercolor landscape paintings are among the first in that medium, but by the seventeenth century in England water-color is used mainly for miniature portraits ("limning") and for informal kinds of history painting. Although Blake is sometimes regard-ed as the modern artist who reconceivregard-ed and reinventregard-ed the illuminatregard-ed manuscript in an attempt to mass-produce it, his vivid and revolutionary watercolors are in a medium not highly regarded in his own time, hence his spirited defense of water and tempera as a medium to be preferred to oil (Michelangelo's own prejudice). We must also remember that Blake does not draw a sharp distinction between water as a medium and water combined with some kind of binder, which is why he speaks of watercolor, tempera, and fresco in one breath. Trained like Durer as an engraver and etcher, Blake turns, as Durer often did, to watercolor, but only after first developing his technique by using watercolors to color his prints. And his approach is governed in practice and theory, like Durer's, by drawing. For Blake, as for Durer, the design and the execu-tion of that design depends upon outline.
Hagstrum writes of Blake's admiration for Raphael's purity of out-line and says his "influence was a variant of Michelangelo's and Al-brecht Durer's." 6 The names could be shifted or interchanged and the accuracy of Hagstrum's observation would still be unerring. As a water-colorist and engraver-etcher, Blake is in some ways closer to Durer than to Michelangelo or Raphael, although his admiration for the two Flor-entines is unbounded. This closeness to Durer extends from their re-spective membership in the brotherhood of engravers to the limited sur-faces available to them. Blake's "invention" of theportable fresco is his
compromise with his circumstances. He knows he really needs a wall or a ceiling on which to paint. Furthermore, the physical climate in which he lives-not to speak of the spiritual-is not receptive to grand designs, especially in true fresco or even true tempera. Blake admires both the spontaneity and the mental preparation needed to execute in fresco. For
4. Annotations toThe Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Discourse III, p. 71, in The Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed., David V. Erdman (New York, 1970), p. 638. See Anthony Blunt, "Blake's
Pictorial Imagination," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, VI (1943), 209.
5. Quoted in Robert J. Clements,Michelangelo's Theory of Art (New York, 1961), p. 267. See my
essay, "The 'Gothicised Imagination' of 'Michelangelo Blake.' "
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Blake execution is paramount: "He who Admires Rafael Must admire Rafaels Execution He who does not admire Rafaels Execution Cannot Admire Rafael."7 While he may not have responded fully to Durer's diagrams and proportions, he is aware that an engraver and a fresco or tempera painter must know in advance what he is to do before he attacks his surface, especially with regard to color.8
Blake knows that a good and careful craftsman must make deliberate preparations. "Special emphasis is placed upon rules which govern fres-co in fres-contrast with oil painting. The best artistic creation is lost if the ground and the color [are] not applied according to rule." No successful artist is undisciplined, and Blake certainly observes "rules" at all stages of his work. Fresco painters must be better acquainted with their medi-um and their materials than oil painters. Doerner observes that although a fresco painter need not do "all the preliminary work himself, . . . the example of Michelangelo may here be a great incentive." Needless to say, Michelangelo's example meant much to Blake, which is why he is so harsh on the methods employed by Rubens and Titian, where appren-tices often did much of the work. The fresco painter, "must know what counts." "Painting in fresco is a thrilling experience, and anyone who has tried it once will love this technique just for the difficulties. . . . It requires the whole man. Delacroix said that the necessity of having everything ready at once in fresco stimulates in the soul a feeling of ex-citement which is directly opposed to the indolence which oil painting engenders."9 Delacroix's experiences with fresco explain much of the doctrinal force of Blake's well-known hostility to oil as a medium even though he never had the opportunity to work directly on wet plaster. Besides identifying fresco with watercolor painting in general, Blake makes fresco a symbol of the spirited kind of painting described by Doerner and Delacroix. Fresco is done best by those artists who have learned to carve their forms or to draw their figures with a firm and determinate outline.
Because Blake was never on the Continent, he had little opportunity to obtain firsthand knowledge of much of the art he most admired or detested. The only chances he had to see the works of the great Conti-nental masters, other than in prints, was in a few private collections to which he eventually gained access after 1800. We know from Gilchrist that in 1804 he saw the collection of Count Truchsess, but we must re-member he was almost fifty years of age. And he was in his sixties when he visited the London home of the noted collector Aders. Therefore,
7. Annotations to Reynolds, Discourse VI, p. 167: Erdman, p. 646. See my essay, " 'A Most Outrageous Demon': Blake's Case Against Rubens."
8. Blake gives specific instructions to Cumberland about preparing the ground for etching, see his letter to George Cumberland, 6 December 1795, in Blake: Complete Writings,ed. Geoffrey Keynes (London, 1966), pp. 790-791.
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what we see in Blake's admiration or distaste for one painter or another is not primarily a question of influence but of sympathetic or unsympa-thetic recognition. Although Blake never stopped learning, his firsthand knowledge of the great painters of Europe came fairly late in his mature years, well after the formation of his own basic style. Blunt says in "Blake's Pictorial Imagination" that subsequent to 1804, the influence of the work of Durer and the German and Flemish engravers in the col-lection of Count Truchsess is visible. He cites in particular the Nebu-chadnezzar and Whore of Babylon pictures, but this influence, I believe, is not really profound. Blake is already too much Blake. It is important to keep in mind, also, that Blake's explicit references to Durer come after 1800, so that even his sympathetic response to Durer is only a fea-ture of his post-Truchsessian period, which is further encouraged late in his life by a group of young artists with painterly concerns.
Hagstrum cites Binyon's opinion that the" Job engravings constitute the grandest work on copper since Durer," and then says that Durer "deserves much of the credit," since his "wonderfully clean line-incisions, . . . fully vindicated Blake's passionate support of line over tonal art."10 Blake's devotion to line, like Durer's, originates, it is
cer-tainly true, with surfaces like copper. To give one-dimensional shapes the quality of three-dimensional forms is to unite painting and sculp-ture, at least partially, in the engraved plate itself. The Job engravings, of course, belong to that post-Truchsessian period.
Max Doerner writes that "Durer demanded of painting the most painstakingly definite drawing of every detail," which, of course, Blake sensed not only in Durer but in Michelangelo and Raphael, even when he had no explicit clue other than Vasari. It is this particularizing and the sculptural quality that Blake sees in the work of Poussin. Durer often works up outlines tinted with color, often in oil, but Doerner con-tends that "it is not thinkable that his finest work was merely oil paint-ing." He is convinced that Durer could not have used liquid oils for all the under- and overpainting he did because the result would have been nothing but a dark brown gallery tone-the "excrement" color that Blake sees in Rubens. Durer's characteristic crispness could not have survived in such a medium. "It is simply not possible to achieve the fine quality of [Durer's] brush lines in anything but a water medium. . . . No matter how skillful one may be, if one attempts the same thing in oil, the result will more often than not be merely a formless spot . . . . There is only one medium which permits the execution of such details in the Durer manner, and that is tempera diluted with water. . . ." I I
Durer's method, or what Blake could know of it, simply reinforces his own prejudices against oil and strengthens his Michelangelesque
opin-10. Hagstrum, p. 38.
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ions about drawing and outline. (According to Vasari, Durer sent a self-portrait to Raphael. Its lights were translucent with opaque white and it was painted entirely in watercolor.) By trying to employ tempera but un-fortunately with not enough knowledge of its chemistry, Blake tries to paint like Durer so he can avoid the formless blots and blurs he sees in the works of other painters like Rubens and Rembrandt. It is possible that Blake might have known that Durer underpainted in oil or resin-varnish, but it is certain that he knows or suspects that tempera and watercolor produce the draughtsman-like details in Durer's work that he so admires. 12 He calls Poussin a "particularizer," but Durer (an engrav-er), like Michelangelo (a sculptor), is even more obviously dedicated to the bounding line. What is more, Durer and Michelangelo always in-sisted upon doing everything themselves: building scaffolds, grinding colors, quarrying marble, underpainting. Blake admires this kind of self-reliant individualism and personal dedication.
Samuel Palmer recalls for Gilchrist that, although Blake had minor reservations about certain details in his work, "No man more admired Albert Durer." It was "hard to tell," Palmer writes, "whether he was more delighted with the general design, or with the exquisite finish and the depth of the chiselling . . . . " Of Durer's woodcuts, Blake remarks, according to Palmer, that they "seemed to consist principally of out-lines;-that they were 'everything and yet nothing.' "13
Many of Blake's contemporaries understand and recognize his admi-ration of and self-identification with Michelangelo, which dates from an earlier stage in Blake's career than their growing awareness (like Palmer's) that Blake also has a special feeling for Durer. The Quaker poet Bernard Barton writes shortly after Blake's death to Linnell that "There is a dryness and hardness in Blake's manner of engraving . . . [and] his style is little calculated to take with admirers of modern en-graving. It puts me in mind of some old prints I have seen, and seems to combine some what of old Albert Durer with Bolswert."14 Palmer recalls that Durer's famous Melancholia, "memorable as probably having been seen by Milton, and used in his Penseroso," was "close by [Blake's] engraving table." 15
Nobody seems to have called Blake by the name of Albert Durer, but in apparent good humor Charles Heathercote Tatham did ask Linnell if he could "engage Michael Angelo Blake to meet" him. 16 Ozias Hum-phry had no doubt about the relation of the two artists. He says of Blake's Last Judgment that "The size of this drawing is but small not
12. For Blake's own experiments in underpainting, see Alexander Gilchrist,Life of William Blake,
rev. edn. (London, 1945), pp. 366, 396.
13. Gilchrist, pp. 302, 311. Blake, according to Gilchrist, did complain about Durer's draperies, which, he said, hid the naked human form and were too rigid and formal.
14. Quoted in G. E. Bentley, Jr., Blake Records(Oxford, 1969), p. 397. 15. Gilchrist, p. 303.
EDWARD J. ROSE 171
exceeding twenty Inches by fifteen or Sixteen (I guess) but then the grandeur of its conception, the Importance of its subject, and the sub-limely multitudinous masses,&groups, which it exhibits . . . . In brief, It is one of the most interesting performances I ever saw;&is, in many respects superior to the last judgment of Michael Angelo and to give due credit & effect to it, would require a Tablet, not less than the Floor of Westminster Hall."17 Like Durer, Blake does not have a "Tablet" large enough to accommodate adequately the imaginative dimensions of his designs.
Michelangelo's piety, his Platonism (or neo-Platonism), his antipathy for oil, and the emphasis he repeatedly placed upon drawing, all of which Blake adopts, are strengthened by his knowledge of Durer's works. In addition, the German artist's gothicism also encouraged Blake's predilection for the Gothic style. Of these influences or shared ideas, the most important is the emphasis that both Michelangelo and Durer placed on drawing. Blake often repeats his own opinions on line or outline, and it would be possible to cite many passages in evidence; the most comprehensive, however, is this passage from his Descriptive
The great and golden rule of art, as well as of life, is this: That the more distinct, sharp, [po 64] and wirey the bounding line, the more perfect the work of art; and the less keen and sharp, the greater is the evidence of weak imitation, plagiarism, and bungling. Great inventors, in all ages, knew this: Protogenes and Apelles knew each other by this line. Rafael and Michael Angelo, and Albert Durer, are known by this and this alone. The want of this determinate and bounding form evidences the want of idea in the artist's mind, and the pretence of the plagiary in all its branches. How do we distinguish the oak from the beech, the horse from the ox, but by the bounding outline? How do we distinguish one face or countenance from another, but by the bounding line and its infinite inflexions and movements? What is it that builds a house and plants a garden, but the definite and determinate? What is it that distinguishes honesty from knavery, but the hard and wirey line of rectitude and certainty [p. 65] in the actions and intentions. Leave out this l[i]ne and you leave out life itself; all is chaos again, and the line of the almighty must be drawn out upon it before man or beast can exist.18
It is important to observe that Blake equates "form" with "outline." Such an equation tells us much about his pictorial Platonism, of which Michelangelo and Durer are the primary sources, because it demon-strates how he associates the form and outline with the "idea in the artist's mind." Although they develop into great painters, Michelangelo and Durer are initially sculptors, but sculptors in two senses: first, they are sculptors in the Platonic sense, that is, creators of mental forms in the mind; and, secondly, they are sculptors in marble and in copper or wood. They perceive the form in their minds and then find it in the ma-terial with which they are working. For Blake there is no "Existence Out of Mind or Thought," and, therefore, the corporeal has no "dwelling
17. Ibid., p. 189.
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Place":19 "And though [Michelangelo] would certainly have rejected-in contrast to the convictions of classical antiquity and modern classi-cism-a deviation of the artistic Idea from sensory experience, he did not think it necessary explicitly to assert, as did the Mannerist metaphys-ics of art, that it originates in some supraterrestrial sphere." 20 Durer himself is specific on this question: "For a good painter is inwardly full of figures, and if it were possible that he live forever, he would have from inner ideas, of which Plato writes, always something new to pour out in his works."21
Although Michelangelo admired Durer's designs and his drawing, he does disparage the mathematical proportions in theProportionslehre, at
least what he knew of them. Of course, such a reaction is typical of Michelangelo who also has little good to say about Leonardo's theories. Despite the honor shown mathematics (not to be unexpected in Platonic influenced systems of thought) in the pictorial arts in the Renaissance, and despite Michelangelo's inclination to fix upon the figura serpen-tinata, which the Mannerists and Blake share, Michelangelo and his
eighteenth-century English disciple distrust the ratiocinative. At least they seem unwilling to rely on it with the same confidence that Durer does, at least in theory. Yet Los as well as Satan possesses a
"Mathe-matic Power." And Durer would be the first to acknowledge his "in-neren Ideen," which take precedence over any kind of theoretical or
mathematical formulations. It is Durer, after all, who applies to man the attribute that Seneca assigned to God by saying that the painter is
"inwendig voller Figur" (inwardly full of figures). Durer's conception
of the painter's imagination, which by the eighteenth century had become common, if not conventional, makes its appearance in Jeru-salem in a highly figurative and mythic fashion:
All things acted on Earth are seen in the bright Sculptures of Los's Halls & every Age renews its powers from these Works
. . . & every sorrow& distress is carved here
Every Affinity of Parents Marriages&Friendships are here In all their various combinations wrought with wondrous Art22
Los is man's imagination, his mental life, and, therefore, in his halls are the mental forms after which all things are "carved": there are many sculptures (voller Figur) in the mind of a creative man. This theory of
art not only appears in Jerusalem and A Vision of the Last Judgment,
but also reflects Blake's everyday inward vision: " 'The other evening,' said Blake, in his usual quiet way, 'taking a walk, I came to a meadow and, at the farther corner of it, I saw a fold of lambs. Coming nearer,
19. A Vision of the Last Judgment, 94-95: Erdman, p. 555. See also VLJ, 69: Erdman, pp. 544-545.
20. Erwin Panofsky,Idea: A Concept in Art Theory, trans. J. J. S. Peake (Columbia, S.C., 1968),
21. Ibid., pp. 123-124.
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the ground blushed with flowers; and the wattled cote and its woolly tenants were of an exquisite pastoral beauty. But I looked again, and it proved to be no living flock, but beautiful sculpture.' The lady, thinking this a capital holiday show for her children, eagerly interposed, 'I beg pardon, Mr. Blake, butmay I ask where you saw this?' 'Here, madam,'
answered Blake, touching his forehead." 23 It is to be noted that once again the forms are not only mental but also sculptures. Of Blake we
could rightly ask, as Wolfflin does of Durer, "if there is not a certain coolness in Durer's whole relationship to the visible world." 24
That Blake shares with Durer a "certain coolness" to the visible world cannot be denied, but he also shares with the German artist an eye for detail and an imaginative vision. He also shares with him the desire to establish pure forms that would be free of the arbitrary and the inde-terminate. Both artists aim for sculptural qualities in their engraving and their painting. By emphasizing outline, they make all other elements dependent on line. 25 Wolfflin says of Durer, "light and colour are entirely subservient to sculpturally lucid form and do not lead an inde-pendent life. To force a strong awareness of sculptural qualities onto the spectator is only the first aim; the higher artistic purpose is to represent things entirely according to their true and essential nature. . . . He wanted to show man as he should be according to the designs of God."26 This is, of course, the ultimate aim of Michelangelo. In fact, his success at creating idealized human forms is attacked not only by latter day critics but by those hostile to him during his lifetime. Often the adverse criticism is directed at the anatomical proportions of his figures. Raphael is said to have painted gentlemen, while Michaelangelo painted porters. Both Durer and Blake have been criticized for the way in which they draw the human form. But sculptural forms outlined according to the idea in the artist's mind are not likely to satisfy the vegetable eye of those who do not measure all things by the ideas in the mind. Blake's desire to restore the art of antiquity by creating giant forms "according to their true and essential nature," as Wolfflin says of Durer, is traceable to his admiration of Durer and Michelangelo. The "determinate and bounding line" that distinguishes one face from an-other also "distinguishes honesty from knavery." The outlined and sculptured form is both an aesthetic and an "ethic vision." 27 In many ways Blake is closer to Durer than Michelangelo because they are fellow
23. Gilchrist, p. 317.
24. Heinrich WOlfflin, The Art of Albrecht Durer, trans. Alastair and Heide Grieve (London, 1971), p. 16. See also p. 285: "This Platonic idea of beauty had cast a spell over Durer."
25. Blake identifies Los with outline. See my essay, "The Spirit of the Bounding Line: Blake's Los,"
Criticism, XIII (Winter 1971), 54-76.
26. WOlfflin, pp. 19-20,27. Blake's letter to Dr. Trusler, 23 August 1799, especially the third para-graph, underscores this comment on Durer: Erdman, pp. 676-677. In order to "represent things entirely according to their true and essential nature" and under the form of eternity, it is essential, Blake contends, not only to see with imagination but to see in detail. This is what rouses the faculties to act.
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engravers, that is, sculptors in copper rather than marble and painters without walls and ceilings ample enough to accommodate their grand forms and conceptions. It may be said of Blake as it has been said of Durer, "that copper engraving was the technique closest to his heart"28 and that in which he is most fully his own man. There is no record, how-ever, of Blake having complained, like Durer, of the "tiresomeness" of painting. 29
Blake and Durer are especially given to self-quotation. Whereas some artists will use early drawings or designs in their later work that they have completely re-styled, Durer and Blake will engrave after or paint from drawings (even engrave after paintings), ten or fifteen years later, without seriously altering the original design. Durer will use a drawing from 1498 for an engraving in 1513 with little or no alteration, while Blake uses. the same designs repeatedly in different contexts and times, often years after first conceiving them. 30 Any scholar who has examined the Vala-Four Zoas manuscript will wonder if the Night Thoughts illus-trations left over from that project in the form of proof-sheets have any bearing on the Vala text, which was written out on them. Blake's habit of transposing his designs encourages such speculations. Of course, neither Durer nor Blake would have thought there was anything unsuit-able in re-using an already proven design if it could be inserted without violence in a work for which it was not originally intended. A trained engraver or woodcutter who is producing designs to be employed as book illustrations and who must meet the heavy demands placed upon him as an artisan, or even a shopkeeper, is likely to be frugal with his portfolio, especially if he is confronted with deadlines. Of course, woodcutting and engraving evolve in order to meet the need for duplica-tion, hence Blake's version of the illuminated book.
Both Panofsky and Wolfflin remark on the late Gothic characteristics of Durer's work. 31 Wolfflin writes that "The things he liked in nature were essentially those on which the whole of contemporary late Gothic art was based. He liked gnarled branches, stags' antlers, the strongly serrated leaves of vines and hops, curling tendrils, intertwined roots, detailed grape clusters and umbels. Durer tried to show the illusion of free movement rather than a fixed geometrical pattern, he wanted a painterly effect of tangled, inexhaustible, unlimited movement rather than a clearly arranged display."32 Wolfflin could easily be describing
28. Ibid.tp. 275.
29. Michelangelothowever, like Durert complained about painting.
30. Albion Roset the so-called "Glad Daytt paintingt is a case in point. Ordinarily Blake first prepared a drawingt which he sometimes colored before engraving and sometimes after engraving. So
far as re-used engraved designs are concernedtseetfor examplet "London tt inSongs of Experienceand plate 84 ofJerusalem,plate 4 ofThe Marriage of Heaven and Helland the color print "The Good and Evil Angels Struggling for Possession of a Child.Jt
See alsot Erwin Panofsky,The Life and Art of
Al-brecht Durer,4th edn. (Princeton, 1955), pp. 13-14.
31. Panofsky,Durertpp. 12, 59tand passim; Wolfflin, pp. 228-229. See also, Panofsky, "Albrecht
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the ornamentation on any of countless pages in the illuminated books, the Job pictures, the Milton illustrations, the Night Thoughts water-colors. Blake's devotion to the Gothic, particularly the late Gothic, is well-known and was stimulated both by his study of Durer and the late work of Michelangelo. His pages are covered by coiling vines and ten-drils, grape clusters, twisted branches, serrated leaves, bent roots, and insect and animal forms. A Blake margin or interlinear space is Gothic in character and certainly Dureresque.
Although both Durer and Blake are stylistically constant throughout their careers, they do develop as pictorial artists in a Michelangelesque way. It is easy to observe the development in Durer by comparing the early and late woodcuts he did for the Book of Revelation. It is easy to observe a similar kind of development in Blake through his Milton, Job, and Dante designs. In fact, in terms of a growing freedom, simple sub-tlety, and boldness, Durer's Apocalypse designs and Blake's designs for the Book of Job may be compared. Both series demonstrate the kind of development that can be observed in Michelangelo's frescoes for the Sistine Chapel.33 In Blake's work, in fact, it is possible to observe a growth in scale throughout his career. By comparing his designs for Young's Night Thoughts with those he made for the Book of Job, it is possible to see how much his ability to control the composition and exe-cute the design had improved over the intervening thirty years.
Like Michelangelo, Durer and Blake are drawn repeatedly to the Bible for inspiration and subject. Both artists choose to illustrate the Book of Revelation, and although Blake does not do so in a formal series, he makes enough designs for that Book for us to observe how sweeping and effective his visions of John's vision are. Each artist chooses to il-lustrate the Woman clothed with the Sun, Michael battling the Dragon, the Babylonian Whore, and the Beast.34As admirable as Durer's designs are (and they are flawlessly executed), we can observe by looking at Blake's magnificent watercolors that not only have three centuries passed but the English artist does not depend on the kind of sources used by the German artist.35 Blake's freedom and inventiveness are partly the effect of his age and partly the result of his own spirit. It is a historical irony-the result again of three hundred years of development in reproductive techniques-that Durer should have started as a wood-cutter who then became an engraver on copper, whereas Blake started as an engraver who had the opportunity only near the end of his life to experiment with woodcuts. In some ways, interestingly enough, Blake's woodcuts for Virgil's Eclogues are every bit as revolutionary in the his-tory of English woodcutting as Durer's were at the end of the fifteenth
33. See Panofsky,Durer,p. 58, and "The 'Gothicised Imagination' of 'Michelangelo Blake.' " 34. Blake's "Death on the Pale Horse" is characteristic of his own work, but bears comparison in some respects with the horsemen in Durer's series. The stillness that coexists with the movement in the designs of each artist is not unalike.
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century. Blake's free-wheeling approach to the wood (no longer the common material for reproduction) is built on years of experience with copper. Like Durer, Blake is in his element when working on copper, but his designs and his execution are impressive no matter what the sur-face or the medium.
Although Blake might well have been taken aback by Lomazzo's having dubbed Durer the "grand Druid" or by the sometimes discern-ible influence of the Venetians on Durer's work, he does share with him his faith, his vocation as a book illustrator, his training as an engraver, his Platonism, and his romantic Classicism with its love of the Antique. No artist is more representative of the "particularizer" than Durer. And, after all, in terms of technique there is a great similarity between cutting on and printing with wood and relief-etching on copper, en-hanced, as was Blake's practice, by additional hand cutting. Neither artist had Michelangelo's marble or the vast surfaces of the Sistine Chapel, but both painted or cut their copper as if they were working in fresco or with marble.
Erasmus called Durer the Apelles of "black lines." Blake would cer-tainly have agreed: "Till we get rid of Titian and Correggio, Rubens and Rembrandt, We never shall equal Rafael and Albert Durer, Michael Angelo and Julio Romano." He makes Durer a member of his quater-nity of master artists. And even when he reduces this quaterquater-nity to a trinity or when he substitutes the ancient artists or Apelles for Romano, he will include Durer. But as I have tried to demonstrate, Blake's rela-tion to Durer is essentially not a quesrela-tion of influence but, instead, of the affinity of creative minds. Blake felt that Durer, a fellow engraver, shared his Michelangelesque judgments and his "Gothicised Imagina-tion." The actual resemblances between the works of Blake and Durer are slight when compared to the obvious similarities between Blake and Michelangelo. Blake's relation to Durer is essentially doctrinal and theoretical.
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